Harry Miller’s Run by David Almond, illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino (9780763689759)
Developed from the short story that appeared in Half a Creature from the Sea, this children’s fiction version is illustrated in full color. Liam wants to be out with his friends practicing for the upcoming Junior Great North Run, but his mother wants him to come to help Harry clear out his home. As they visit with Harry, he shares the story of his own run as a boy when he and some friends ran from their town all the way to the sea. It’s a story of friendship, shared experience, a hot sunny day, and the wonder of ice cream at the end.
I enjoyed this short story immensely in the original short story collection and was very pleased to discover it again in this illustrated format. The story is immensely fun, beginning with the mistake of how far the boys were actually going to run and then their determination to finish anyway. Framed by the story of Harry as an old man telling the tale and Liam listening, the story within a story shines with the brightness of a summer day against the more somber tones of aging.
Rubbino’s illustrations make this version of the story accessible for younger audiences who will appreciate the text being broken up by bright-colored images. The illustrations reflect the story with the modern illustrations done in blacks and grays with a pop of blue provided by Harry’s cap. The illustrations for Harry’s memories suddenly turn into full color with Harry still in the same blue cap.
A lovely new version that makes this story available to more people, this is a winner. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
This Australian import is the first in a fresh new illustrated chapter book series. Wolf has decided that he’s tired of being a bad guy so he recruits three fellow baddies to his new gang where they do good deeds. But it’s not so easy for Shark, Piranha and Snake to give up their own ways, like eating meat and people. Their first mission for good is to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree, but what kitten wants to climb down if they see those big teeth smiling at them? Their next job is to rescue 200 dogs from the dog pound. It involves Shark dressing up as a little girl, Wolf making a great shot, and Piranha and Snake showing the dogs the way out. But the plan doesn’t quite work out they way they want it too either.
This book has the pep and feel of a comic book, filled with large fonts that add attitude to the pages and lots of illustrations. In fact, because of its many illustrations it will be a welcome early book for new chapter book readers who will love the humor as well as the pictures that nicely break up the text. There is a great zany energy to the entire book with one joke leading nicely to the next. The pacing is cleverly done with just enough time to catch your breath from laughing before the action starts again.
Blabey’s illustrations are a large part of that manic charm. They are hugely funny. Emotions are shown broadly and wildly on characters’ faces. The shark barely fits into the car and not without a bump out for the dome of his head. There are incidents of eating one another and being bashed against walls. Each one is hilarious and children will love the slapstick comedy of it all.
A funny delight, this illustrated chapter book will have young readers begging for the next in the series. I know I can’t wait! Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.
Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley (InfoSoup)
Gertie doesn’t know her mother at all, since she left Gertie and her father behind. Gertie lives with her aunt and father, who is often gone working on an oil rig. But when a For Sale sign goes up on her mother’s home and she expects to leave town soon, Gertie discovers that she wants to prove to her mother that she should never have left. So Gertie goes on a mission to become the best fifth-grader in the universe. When school starts though, there is a new student in her class, Mary Sue Spivey, who seems to be a lot more likely to be the best. She gets perfect grades, their teacher loves her, and even Gertie’s best friend befriends Mary Sue. When tryouts for the play come though, Gertie is selected as the lead, but can she actually become the perfect fifth grader and get her mother to witness it?
Beasley has created a story filled with characters who are vastly human. Gertie herself struggles with success, has trouble keeping her strong personality under wraps, sets herself immense goals through her missions, and yet has a huge heart and a desire to do the right thing. That right thing though is often warped under her reasoning into something that many people might see as overtly wrong.
The book has plenty of twists and turns, all based on Gertie herself and what she is creating around her. Sometimes that is good things and other times it is pure trouble. She also discovers that young people can be “fickle” and uses that word to keep herself from being too overly concerned when they turn against her and also too caught up in when they like her again.
Ideal for children who enjoyed Clementine, this book has humor, pizzazz and one great heroine. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye by Geoffrey Hayes (InfoSoup)
Benny and Penny return in another graphic novel perfect for new readers. In this story, the two mouse siblings start the story by jumping in piles of leaves. Penny worries that Benny will hurt the leaves, but Benny explains that the leaves are already dead. Then Penny discovers a dead salamander in the yard. Penny wants to bury the salamander but Benny gets angry and tries to stop her over and over again. As Penny moves ahead with burying the salamander with the help of another friend, Benny listens in and then starts feeling sad rather than angry about the little dead creature.
Hayes speaks to the experience of death for young children in a gentle and understanding way. He captures the movement from anger at loss to grief in a way that is organic and natural, allowing Benny the ability to feel his emotions and contrasting those with the way his sister is reacting. Both reactions are supported by the book, allowing children to think about their own emotions.
Hayes sets the book in autumn, showing seasonal aspects throughout the story. There are fallen leaves, bare trees, and a sense of change throughout the book. As always, Hayes beautifully illustrates his graphic novels, allowing them to be an ideal bridge between picture book and chapter book.
A lovely look at a child’s first experience with death, this graphic novel is gentle and filled with kind understanding. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from TOON Books.
Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina (InfoSoup)
Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia with her family. She loves things like reading, drawing, Brussels sprouts, and Astroman. She also loves living in Bogotá and in particular having a best friend like Lucas, her dog. Still, there are some things she doesn’t like. She doesn’t like the school uniform she has to wear, doing classwork, and in particular she doesn’t like learning “the English.” When Juana complains about having to learn English and how hard it is, the adults around her encourage her to keep trying. She is also told about a special trip that her grandparents are planning to the United States and Juana will get to meet Astroman there! But in order to be allowed to go, Juana has to do better in her classes, particularly English.
Filled with lots of pictures and even some infographics, this book is particularly approachable for children. With the same humor and heart as series like Clementine, this picture book offers a glimpse into another culture as well as a smart and independent heroine. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the text, making it just challenging enough that readers will understand how hard it is to decode a different language and yet how rewarding it is too.
The illustrations are bright and cheery. The infographics, used to label different characters with their unique characteristics are funny and nicely designed for clarity. The city of Bogotá and the people in Juana’s life are shown in bright colors with lovely humorous touches.
The first book in a new series that offers diversity, Spanish and lots of heart. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban, illustrated by Katie Kath (InfoSoup)
Max’s father has an apartment of his own now where Max spends weekends. On his first visit to the apartment, Max is amazed at how white and clean everything is. Everything except his bedroom which is filled with football things, even though Max doesn’t particularly care about football any more. He is much more into being a spy. So Max and his father spend their weekend getting to know his new neighborhood by dressing as spies, taking covert photographs, eating pancakes, and following a mysterious man. Following visits to his father’s apartment involve meeting the neighbors, walking dogs, doing some homework, having a friend over and buying a couch. As Max settles into his new weekend routines with his dad, he learns a lot about what makes a place a home.
Urban writes with a gentleness about this new circumstance in Max’s life. Max is refreshingly unburdened by guilt in his parent’s divorce. The focus instead is on the new place to live, figuring out the different relationship, and realizing that a person can happily have two homes. Throughout the book, real love and devotion is shown by both Max and his father. There is a beautiful flexibility from both of them in each story and also a willingness to listen and learn from one another. Each also takes care of the other emotionally, not wanting to hurt one another. Which is also a very nice change from children lashing out in books about divorce.
The illustrations by Kath make this book very approachable for young readers. They nicely break up the text, plus add to the humor. Readers can see Max’s father in his full spy disguise as well as enjoying the finished school project and the furry fun of two basset hounds. The pictures add to the warmth and love that exude from this book.
A loving book about father and son relationships after a divorce, this novel for young readers demonstrates that life and love continues. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Complicated Case by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee
This is the second book in the Detective Gordon series and offers a new mystery for the toad police chief and his young mouse assistant to solve. The detective pair live together at the police station after converting the jail into bedrooms. Gordon is getting pudgier and finding it harder to run, partly because he loves his cakes and his naps. Buffy is just as energetic as ever, but has some of her own personal fears to overcome, like admitting that she can’t read. The two detectives discover that someone in the forest is being mean to others, something that is clearly against the rules set forth in the law. But things are not as clear as they may seem as the two detectives discover.
Nilsson has just the right amount of drama in this second installment of the series. The lovely friendship between the aging toad and the young mouse is delightfully presented with plenty of appreciation for what each of them bring to the partnership, and I don’t just mean that Gordon can swim and Buffy can climb trees. In this mystery, the two of them also convey their own doubts and fears, something that is done with enough subtlety that readers may not realize until the end of the book that that is the focus of this mystery.
The art is warm and playful. The two characters are wonderfully distinct from one another as Gordon mopes on the page about how pudgy he is while Buffy dances and dreams of wearing costumes. There is a coziness in the illustrations as well, from the cakes and their tins to the soft furniture.
Another lovely outing for the two detectives, this series is one to watch for children just starting to read chapter books. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.
Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter, illustrated by Qin Leng (InfoSoup)
Released August 4, 2015
Piper is heading off to her first day of second grade. She looks forward to much of it, from riding the boat to school from the tiny island where they live to the donuts and other treats they get each morning on the way. But she is also desperately missing her older brother Erik. So she puts on his earmuffs and refuses to take them off. She’s sure that her teacher will understand, however when she gets to school she has a new teacher who looks like a princess but can also be awfully grumpy about things like earmuffs. The next day, after promising everyone that she would take the earmuffs off when she got to school, Piper decides that it’s best not to go. Unfortunately, sirens go off and she is stuck up in a tree waiting for everything to calm down. Everything is getting worse and worse until Piper discovers the treasure in the fairy tree outside her house.
Potter writes consistently wonderful books no matter what age she is writing for, so it should be no surprise that she also excels at writing for elementary-aged children. These simple chapter books offer a charming mix of reality and a dash of magic in the form of the fairy tree and the treasure it offers. In Piper, Potter has created a great girl character who is determined and wonderfully creative in the way she solves problems. This of course is what lands her in all kids of trouble, much to the delight of the reader.
Leng’s illustrations are simple and friendly. They capture both the dynamic Piper and her family as well as the unique island they live on. The adult characters too are wonderfully warm and human. I particularly enjoy the neighbor Mrs. Pennypocket in her overalls and her boots, the one who introduces Piper to the magic tree.
A strong new series for elementary-aged kids, this book and the second book in the series will be enjoyed by fans of Clementine and Judy Moody.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
This is the second book featuring Dory, better known as Rascal by her family. In this book, Dory is headed to school. Her older siblings insist that she leave her best friend, Mary, who happens to be a monster that only Dory can see, at home. Dory agrees, since Mary had caused so much trouble at school the year before. Dory is going to try instead to be a regular girl and not get into trouble, but that’s not very easy when a new adventure comes her way. She also meets a girl in her class who appears to be a princess and talks about the castle she lives in and her pet dragon. Her siblings don’t believe that Rosabelle isn’t imaginary though. As Dory figures out that this may be a new real friend, thanks to their shared huge imaginations, she may also need help rescuing Mr. Nuggy, her fairy godmother, from the clutches of Mrs. Gobble Gracker.
I adored the first book in this series thanks to its embracing of a character who is wonderfully quirky and entirely unique. Dory is a girl with a huge imagination and also one who does not bow to social conventions easily. From wearing her nightgown all of the time at home to packing salami for lunch and then eating it like cookies, Dory does what makes her happy and doesn’t care for what others think. That is tested when she tries to befriend Rosabelle and while Dory works to make friends she still doesn’t change herself for it. Instead the two create a great synergy of imaginative play together where fairy godmothers with beards, evil sharp toothed women, dragons, monsters, and knights fight an amazing battle.
The illustrations are in the same style as the first book, drawn as if Dory herself was doing them as she tells her story. The entire book bursts with energy and funny moments. I particularly enjoyed seeing favorite characters from the first book return and the consistency of Dory’s imaginative play. While Dory may be entering a new year in school, all of the wild characters she invented in the first book are back in the second.
Fans of the first book will love this second one. Dory is exactly who I’d love as a friend! Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.